In Piazza della Minerva, a square near the Pantheon in Rome, there’s a famous sculpture. It was overseen by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and depicts a small elephant carrying an obelisk on its back. The elephant was commissioned by the pope in 1667 to support an obelisk from ancient Egypt that had been recently discovered in the city.
It is affectionally known by Italians as ‘l’elefantino’ – the small elephant. You may have come across words with -ino at the end of them to give the meaning of ‘small’, ‘tiny’ or ‘little’. For example, un obelisco’ (an obelisk) becomes ‘un obelischino’ (a little obelisk). If the word is feminine, then you add -ina, rather than -ino. So ‘una statua’ (a statue) becomes ‘una statuina’ (a small statue).
The most common word for small is ‘piccolo’, like other Italian adjectives it ends in -o for masculine singular, -a for feminine singular, -i for masculine plural and -e for feminine plural.
Let’s look at some examples:
- Un piccolo elefante – a small elephant
- Due piccoli elefanti – two small elephants
- Una piccola piazza – a small square
- Due piccole piazze – two small squares
You can combine ‘piccolo’ with the -ino ending we looked at earlier to mean ‘really small’. Or even with another ending to mean extremely tiny or teeny weeny. This would be ‘piccolissimo’.
- Un obelisco piccolino – a really small obelisk
- Un scultura piccolissima – an extremely small scultpure
It’s easy to just use the word ‘piccolo’ and its variants. But it’s a good idea to learn some synonyms and widen your Italian vocabulary. There are three words you could use to talk about something very small in Italian:
You could use the word ‘piccino’ which means small, tiny or little.
Alternatively, you could use the word ‘minuscolo’, which means miniscule or miniature. It is also used to describe writing, and in this case means lower case or small letters.
Another option is ‘minuto’ which can be translated as ‘minute’ or ‘miniscule’.
Here is an example sentence for each of these, describing the little elephant statue:
- Ha i piedi piccini – It’s got tiny feet
- Ha la probiscide minuscola – It’s got a miniature trunk
- Ha la coda minuta – It’s got a miniscule tail
So, the next time you’re in Rome visiting the Pantheon, don’t forgot to walk round the corner to see the little elephant carrying an obelisk on its back. You’ll be able to comment on its tiny size in a variety of ways I’m sure!